Ladies of the Lake

The Dickens family of Ebony, Va. is proving there’s plenty more to get involved in around Lake Gaston than just recreation. 

Having fun around the water is important, too, but 11-year-old Charlotte Dickens and her brother Joshua, 8, are learning the value of helping others on their summer vacations. 

The siblings, with help from parents Crystal and Josh, have raised more than $3,000 to distribute to local charities by selling “Lake Gaston Strong” T-shirts through Richmond, Va.-based Bonfire, a fundraising platform. A hundred percent of the profits go back to the community. 

“At the start of (COVID-19), the kids and I wanted to do something to help our community,” Crystal Dickens said, “but we really didn’t want to sew masks, so we were trying to come up with a way to give back to the community during COVID.”

“I just feel really bad that some people don’t get to have as much as other people have,” Charlotte added. “So I feel like it’s just really good to help.”

The Dickens family initially selected six area nonprofits to raise money for and so far have been able to make $500 donations each to the Ladies of the Lake Cancer Support Team, the Big Heart Pantry, the John 3:16 Center, Camp Willow Run’s Youth Camps for Christ, and Helpful Hands and Hearts. 

On Friday, Crystal and the kids visited Ladies of the Lake at Norton’s at the Lake in Henrico for a check presentation, marking the first time the Ladies had been able to gather for an in-person meeting since February due to COVID-19. 

“This is the most exciting thing,” said Sue Williams of Ladies of the Lake. “... It just means a great deal to us. We really, really appreciate it. It’s been a tough year for all of us because of COVID.”

That means their monthly bunco gatherings have been canceled along with a vendors fair and the Holiday Home Tour, which raises $9,000 per year. 

“Any donations that we can get mean a great deal to us,” Williams said. 

Some of the other beneficiaries echoed that sentiment. 

The Big Heart Pantry has provided emergency food assistant to those in need in Northampton County for more than 17 years. 

“They saw a need and found a way to fulfill that need,” Big Heart Pantry Executive Board Chair Lucy Edwards said in a press release. “This donation is generous, thoughtful, and will go a long way toward buying food to restock the pantry when it does resume full operations later this summer.”

At John 3:16 in Littleton, COVID-19 has caused a drastic shift in operations with children not being able to meet in person. 

“They did this work, raised the money and found ways to distribute it so that it would make a difference in the lives of others,” John 3:16 Executive Director Shannon McAllister said. “It’s just inspiring to see people take that kind of initiative.”

Knowing their donations would impact other children directly, like at John 3:16, in Ladies of the Lake’s fundraising for cancer patients or Youth Camps for Christ, was an added bonus for Charlotte and Joshua. 

They love living at the lake. Joshua said he likes being able to access the lake through his backyard rather than drive all the way to a pool, and Charlotte said it’s a great place to make family memories. 

Then there’s this part, or spirit, of the area that thrill seekers and weekenders might not always get to see. 

“People don’t realize what a big community of locals there are here,” Crystal said. “I think this campaign shows there are a lot of people here that support each other and lift our community.”

The family plans to launch another similar campaign with the proceeds again going back to the community. 

Visit bonfire.com/lake-gaston-strong to see more about their fundraising efforts.